Showing posts with label water. Show all posts
Showing posts with label water. Show all posts

Monday, February 11, 2013

Yard Garden and Patio Show: New True Grit

This weekend I hit the Yard Garden and Patio show and got the shot in the arm I needed to get me really excited about spring. I only made it to two seminars, sadly, but they both were great. I headed over to the Right Plant, Right Place seminar (Dan Heims, Terra Nova Nurseries). I was feeling sort of "pfft" about it, but the main hall was getting crowded, I was getting tired, and I can sit happily for hours and listen to people talk about plants. It was a treat when they announced that Dan got stuck in Boston in the snowstorm and Maurice Horn of Joy Creek Nursery would be talking about using gravel in the garden.

He described the process of designing a no-water hell strip for five of his neighbors, which was a huge success. Eventually he was asked to design some large hell strips around Reed College. They would receive no supplemental water and they were comprised of the heavy clay soil that's so prevalent here. He talked about two different things: soil prep and great xeric plants.

Xeric plants thrive on very little water but their crowns tend to rot out in our very wet winters. In order to prevent this, they use gravel as mulch, which wicks moisture away from the crown of the plant. They also amend the soil with two inches of quarter ten crushed basalt and two inches of compost. The type of gravel is important. You want crushed basalt, not round gravel, because it travels down into the clay and breaks it up better. Quarter ten gravel has also been washed, which means you won't get fine particulate floating to the top of your beds and forming a concrete crust.

He's also been experimenting with applying gravel to areas of standing water and top-dressing them with compost. This breaks up the water tension and allows the water to percolate down. They have a great article on their blog about how to improve your lawn using 3/4" of gravel and a top dressing of grass seed.

Source: Joy Creek Nursery

The old lawn grows up through the gravel and the new seed germinates on top. You end up with an even lawn (you use the gravel to level uneven spots) that requires less water, less feeding, and stays green longer.

Back in the hellstrip, once you've got your soil prepped with gravel and compost, you can put in plants that require no water in the summer. Some of his suggestions:

Arctostaphylos 'Greensphere,' a "perfect small shrub" whose only drawback is that it grows very slowly to 3' x 3'.

Image source

Ceanothus 'Dark Star.' Maurice says he loves all the Ceanothus but he probably uses this one the most. Dark green leaves and dark blue flowers.

Melicytus alpinus (Hymenanthera), a textural bony plant to 2.5' x 2.5'. This one is covered in intensely white fruit all winter long.

Image source
Grevillea victoriae, a 6x6' shrub that blooms nine-plus months per year and requires almost no water.

Image source: Tall Clover Farm

Cistus 'Elma', which has large white flowers and dark green foliage covered in an aromatic resin that apparently smells amazing.

Image source

Halimium pauanum, which has saturated yellow flowers and an eventual size of 2.5' x 2.5'.

Image source: Joy Creek Nursery
Penstemon davidsonii.

Salvia greggii 'U.C. Pink', a hot hot pink bloomer six months of the year.

Yucca 'Bright Edge', a strap leafed plant that tinges red when the weather turns cold.

Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), an underused Oregon native that forms a silver mat smothered in yellow flowers.

Image source

Sedum kamtschaticum 'Variegatum', which blooms twice and does well in the shade of shrubs.

Image source: Joy Creek

Veronica armena, whose foliage is like pine needles.

Photo source: Joy Creek

Zauschneria 'Bowman's Hybrid', which Maurice likes to use to camouflage the dying foliage of tulips.

Image source: Joy Creek

Muhlenbergia rigens, which Maurice warned to never cut back, as it will take years to recover.

Image source: Joy Creek

Crocus sativus, or saffron crocus.

Image source

This talk got me so excited to replant my hell strip and try the gravel method on our lawn where the bobcat compacted everything. My hope is to avoid watering in the front yard more than once a week in the summer, so I'll definitely be planting a lot of these. I'm sure Dan's planned talk would've been great but I'm happy that Maurice subbed in. It was just the information I needed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Unearthing the basement floor

Removing old vinyl tile from a basement floor is fun stuff.  Oh no, wait, what's the opposite of that?  It's the opposite of fun stuff.


It feels good to get this old mildewy stuff out of the basement, but I wish getting it out didn't make my wrists so sore and my hands so blistered.


People actually pay a lot of money to make their concrete floors look like this.

I would gladly give it for free if someone would remove the rest of the tile for me.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

How to paint your fireplace

Do you want to update your grimy old fireplace?  A coat of paint is a good option, particularly if you're never going to use the fireplace for fire.  These bricks would look lovely with a coat of white paint.

Before you start you'll want to make sure that you put all the paint cans you've ever used (empty or full) in the basement, regardless of whether you'll need them. You'll want to trip over these later, especially since you'll be wearing contacts that are the wrong prescription, making walking a little tricky.  That's just the price you pay so your glasses aren't fogging up constantly with a ventilator mask on your face.

You'll also want to plan a dinner party for the evening.  Decide that morning to make homemade bread, despite the fact that you've *never* made an edible loaf of yeasted bread before.  Tonight will be different.

You'll want to remove the tack strips that surround the fireplace hearth, lest you accidentally kneel on one of those upward facing nails.  They were left from when you removed the carpeting.  Grab your handy floor scraper and start to loosen the rotting wood.

Accidentally take out half of a hearth stone with the floor scraper.  Whoops. 

You know what?  You never liked those that much and they aren't original to the house, so let's just get rid of all of them.

Some of the vinyl glue-down tiles popped off when you were scraping, so just scrape a few off around the fireplace.  You'll want to leave the rest alone because scraping up all the tile in the basement would be crazy.  

Shhhh . . . did you hear that? That was your friend Carrie, screaming "ASBESTOS IN THE VINYL TILE!" from a mile down the road.  But it's okay; you're wearing a mask and you're only removing a couple of tiles.


Crap.  That looks like water. Just a little bit, but water nonetheless.  Decide to switch to pulling up the tack strips that run along every wall.  

But first, run upstairs to do the first kneading of the bread. Finally read the recipe in full and realize that it requires FOUR rises and the bread won't be ready to go into the oven until 8 pm, never mind that you need to cook the chicken and the veggies too, all at different tempuratures.

Add "baguette" to your shopping list and return to the basement.

VERY IMPORTANT: put on the grimiest pair of work gloves you own so that you're sure to leave the highest number of smudges and smears on your freshly painted walls.  If something is worth doing, it's worth doing three times because you couldn't be bothered to be careful.


Wedge your prybar under the rotting wood and try to wrench it free from the basement floor.  Ding the drywall you so painstakingly mudded and sanded and primed and sanded and painted as many times as possible.  Once you finally have all the tack strips up, scrape some more tile from the SW corner of the basement, realizing that there's water in other areas, too.  

Realize that you really should scrape up all the vinyl tiles and put down some sort of sealant before you install the laminate flooring.  Sweep up as much of the vinyl tiles as you can and get them outside because they probably contain ASBESTOS, OH MY GOD, ASBESTOS and then use your shop vac to clean up all the debris you left.  Try to clog the shop vac as many times as possible.  

Hint: it's more times than you'd ever think possible.

Spray a bleach solution on the exposed concrete in the worthless hope that this might take care of any mold issues in the basement.  The hallmark of good home improvement is a smelly house, especially if you have guests coming over that night.  

Marvel at your updated fireplace.  Isn't it lovely?

The baguette?  It was delicious.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The kitchen floor debacle

I had to go back to work the next week, which was probably for the best.  My fingers and wrists were so swollen and sore from gripping tools, scrubbing things, and holding a paintbrush that I woke up in the morning with my hands frozen in a claw.  None of my rings fit and my back was a mess.  I stopped by the house after work to throw another coat of paint on the closets and built-ins and found that the cheap styrofoam cooler of beer I had in the kitchen had cracked and leaked all over the kitchen floor.

 The kitchen tile before

Since the tile was cracked and lifting in places (which you really can't see in the photo), all the water traveled into the subfloor.  Luckily, I was already planning on replacing the kitchen floor and had already gotten six bids and ordered the materials. 

I pulled up the tile right then and there until I hit dry floor.  The water had spread the 9 ft length of the kitchen, to about a six feet width.  I pointed a fan at the floor and hoped it would be okay.

The upshot to this whole situation was that the mortar and grout that had been used to put the tile down scraped off quite easily.  In retrospect I wish the water had spread MORE because that last 30 or 40 square feet that stayed dry was a pain to clear.  I rented a floor scraper from the North Portland tool library but I didn't have the requisite upper body strength or stamina to use it very effectively.

I had ordered black and white Marmoleum, to be laid in a checkerboard pattern.  The installers were planning to put down a 1/4" underlayment beneath the tiles, but the subfloor would need to be pretty smooth.  Ultimately I went to the hardware store and rented a belt sander.  Gary at the Home Depot really didn't think this would work.  He asked he if I had considered a power washer.  I reiterated that I was removing thinset INSIDE MY HOUSE.  In the kitchen.

He suggested Goo Gone.  I asked him if he knew what thinset was.  Was he familiar with ceramic tile and how it gets attached to things?

He really tried to talk me out of the sander.  I was really tired at this point.  He very begrudgingly rented it to me.  He and his coworker joked back and forth that it was going to take me all night, that it was good I had a sleeping bag in my trunk, that it was a good thing I could have the sander until morning.  He tried to sell me 15 sanding belts, because "I was gonna need them." 

And guess what happened?  The sander worked like a charm.  I had the sander back to them in less than two hours.  I had used two sanding belts, but could have gotten away with one.

Suck it, Gary.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

First projects in the house

Monday: Day 1 of house work week.

Buying a fixer I sort of bounced all over the place with where I wanted to start. For some reason I felt like I needed to get the basement finished out so I could offer it to potential roommates as a place to be creative, watch TV, or just get away from each other. Nevermind that the sink in the bathroom doesn't work, I have a finished basement! I'm not sure what I was thinking.

As a side note, waiting for my closing date was the most stressful thing I've been through in a while. I couldn't do anything at the house, so instead I stewed and worried. I slept horribly, crunching numbers in my head almost constantly. Could I really afford this place? How long would it take me to get a roommate? One Saturday night I tossed and turned, convinced that no one would ever want to live with me if I didn't have a dining room table and chairs. THE HORROR. But I went out the next day to Rerun on Fremont and got a really cool (if a little dilapidated) Danish dining set for $70.

Anyway, the basement. Scott, Z, and Keith volunteered to help me put in laminate flooring in the basement the following Saturday. Lumber Liquidators had a very good sale going, so I could outfit the whole basement for about $350, which seemed like so much money at the time. So my first project was the pull the mildewing carpet out of the basement. This is the part in the story where people always say, "You wore a mask/ventilator, right?"

Ummmm . . . . no? It didn't even occur to me at the time. In retrospect? BAD IDEA JEANS, you guys. But I did it and I haven't died yet. The carpet came up really easily, as did the padding underneath. I got it hauled up the stairs and into the garage and it wasn't even 10am yet. I was feeling so good, like I was going to have this whole house finished in the one week I had taken off of work.

I encountered another layer of padding in the basement, the glue-down kind. And I noticed this unfortunate little problem:

These are water stains from where the water table rose in my basement. Or at least that's what I thought it was. So I emailed Keith and told him what I suspected and waited for a response. In the meantime I had this epiphany: any potential roommate is not going to care about the basement, they are going to care about the kitchen and the bathroom. And furthermore, so would I. So I decided to shelve the flooring project and focus instead on getting the bathroom and kitchen fixed up.

Most days I'm not very smart, but this idea? It was a very good one.